Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Parka Avenue talks to Fernando "Boogaloo" Valez of Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings

It should be obvious to everyone that I think Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings is the best current Soul act around. This is not an overstatement. A recent Mod Generation poll states it too. Unless you've seen them live, no blog post, Internet poll or newspaper review will do the group justice.

This time around, I really got to appreciate the incredible vocal abilities of the band's back-up singers, The Dapettes. Inside sources indicate that they might be coming out with a single or two, sometime this year. This is great news. Speaking of 45s to be on the look out for, the band debuted the brand new Binky Griptite's musical creation New Shoes. I can easily see myself spinning this up-tempo dance number at any Northern soul night. This is a bona fide hit.

Aside from their gripping stage presence and musical prowess, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are an approachable bunch. You won't find any big egos here. I had the chance of doing a short interview with Fernando "Boogaloo" Valez, the low key but indispensable congas player. A friendly cat, he is obviously very proud of the band he is a part of. This is what he had to say.

Your touring schedule is pretty hectic. How do you cope with that?

This is what we do. This is our life. I chose to do this. Of course, sometimes it's hard but I love it.

Daptone Records puts all of their releases out on vinyl. Is vinyl just a fad or is it here to stay?

When we started, Daptone only put out 45s and LPs. Some of us collect records and it's a real passion. Vinyl offers a range of sound that other mediums don't. After a while, fans requested that we put out CDs since some of them didn't own record players. We had to cater to them. This is not a fad. We are in it for the long run.

You sometimes hear people describe your sound as "retro". How do you feel about that?

We can't help the fact that people put a label on us. We just play Soul and Funk, plain and simple. Soul has always been present and has never stopped. We just continue on with the tradition.

How important is the overall look of the band?

We're on stage to put on a show and you have to look the part. I think it's important. I've noticed more and more people, like you, have started dressing up at shows. It's nice to see people, young and old, from all backgrounds putting in the effort.

Are you aware that SJDK have a big Mod following all over the world?

Yes, absolutely. They've been supporting us from the very beginning. At almost every show we see pockets of Mods here and there.  I remember seeing them all over, in cities like Barcelona, Toronto and New York.


Motown and Stax might be long gone but we can console ourselves with the fact that we now have Daptone Records. The future is bright!

If you want tour dates, info, photos and more, join their Facebook page or have a look at their official website here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Twiggy, Queen of Mod

What does a Mod do on a Friday night when there are no worthy shows on the calendar and the weather is far from being scooter friendly? He arranges a double date with his mate Lee in the popular neighborhood restaurant, The Griffintown Cafe.

Their modern bistro menu and live jazz band makes it the perfect spot to start your weekend. I only have a single complaint. Man the band was loud! You could hardly hear yourself talk! When you’re in  a small restaurant, I'm sure you can do without a microphone. So when the waitress asked us if we wanted a table on the terrace, we accepted without hesitation.

After a tasty meal and some great conversation, Lee and Shareen were kind enough to invite us to have a cocktail at their condo across the street. The needle was dropped on a few choice vinyls and the friendly banter ensued. Lee introduced me to a great compilation called The In-Kraut - Hip Shaking Grooves Made In Germany 1966-1974. It's available on CD and vinyl. Here's a taste.

The evening took an unexpected turn when our host pulled out his prized possession, the Twiggy Game - A game that makes every girl, like Twiggy, the queen of mod. Undoubtedly meant for teenage girls in the 60s, we didn't expect that it was going to be this much fun. I guess there's a Twiggy hidden inside me after all.

The object of the game is pretty simple. You pick a color and must collect the same colored cards in order to form an image of Twiggy. The player with the most cards in the end wins. Explained this way, it might sound boring but add a few cocktails to the mix and you have a recipe for a good time.


How can you not be captivated by a game that has such thrilling spaces as "Model a New Mod Outfit - Take 3 Cards", "Stop Biting Your Nails - Don't Play This Turn", "Have A Blast - Take 2 Cards", "Wave Hello to Teen Fans - Take 1 Card" and my personal favorite "Feed the Goat at The Zoo - Take 1 Card"?

After a few turns around the table, I quickly realized that some basic game play could be applied, especially when it comes to sticking it to your opponent. Of course I made a fool of myself a couple of times trying different strategies but I did end up winning! This is quite a personal achievement for me. I was quite pleased to have won a 1967 teenage girl board game mainly based on chance. I always dreamt of becoming the queen of Mod! Plus, after reviewing the rules, we found out that the average playtime is half an hour and we took almost 2!

Lee working out a strategy

I did learn a few valuable life lessons while playing this game. If I one day aspire to become a female Mod fashion icon, I need to throw a few pajama parties, pose for pictures at the airport and eat hot dogs.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

An intimate moment with my lady, Sharon Jones

When I came back from the Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings' concert, I announced to my girlfriend that I now had two women in my life, Sharon and her. Yes, I still had my mistress' scent on me.

That's right, I had left my home that night to go see another gal. My fiancée was powerless to convince me otherwise. Wearing my best suit, flowers in one hand, I was ready to charm another lady. Like the low down dog that I am, nothing was going to stop me. I'm not proud to admit it but Sharon and I did end up having an intimate moment.

It just took one or two songs before our eyes locked. That was it. This is when I pulled out my secret weapon, a fresh bouquet of flowers. Clearly not expecting it, a smile appeared on her face. She immediately pointed her index finger at me and gave me the "come here you little rascal" sign. It took but one leap to join her on stage.

Photograph by John Kenney - The Gazette
The roles were now reversed. She was working her magic on me! I was defenseless. I was now in her playpen. I had almost forgotten the more than 850 adoring fans right in front of us. I felt like we were alone in the world. Engaged in a game of cat and mouse, I already knew I was going to lose. Her voice had started mesmerizing me. Trying to resist her was pointless and a waste of energy. The band, her sly accomplices, fueled the fire by providing the soundtrack to our blossoming romance.

This is when we shared OUR moment. She had reached into my soul and I had succumbed to her feminine wilds...

Just like Billy Paul sang in his great 1972 soul classic:
"Me and Mrs. Jones
We got a thing goin'on
We both know that it's wrong
But it's much too strong
To let it go now

We gotta be extra careful
That do we don't build our hopes up too high
Because she's got her own obligations
And so, and so, do I

Me and Mrs. Jones
We got a thing goin'on
We both know that it's wrong
But it's much too strong
To let it go now"

Friday, May 13, 2011

MODchicago - Our Way of Thinking 9 - An event not to be missed

Last summer, I had the pleasure of visiting one of the most exciting cities in the United States - Chicago. My previous visit dates back to 1997 when I crossed the continent on my Lambretta GP200. This time I vowed that I wasn't going to wait some 13 years before I set foot in the Windy City again.

Last August, I got to meet the Face of the Chicago Mod scene, Sir Eric Colin. He's an avid record collector, skilled DJ, talented musician, Shindig! Magazine contributor and all around super nice guy. His passion for music is truly contagious and his wealth of knowledge about the subject is impressive.

So imagine how thrilled I was when he asked me to be part of the 9th edition of the MODchicago - Our Way of Thinking weekender. Wow! My first international gig! This is quite an honor! A Cyclical Incantation - A Case Study in Garage, Soul, Freakbeat and Psych is this year's theme. With DJs from all over the US, Canada, France and Italy, it's gearing up to be one for the books.

I asked Eric if he thought that a set centered on French Quebec 60s Beat and Yé Yé and some rare Canadian Garage was up his alley and he was up for it. So you can expect a nice dose of the Mod classics but with a French twist. I'll also throw in a few Soul tracks for good measure. So make sure to leave June 10th and 11th free on your calendar. Chicago will be the place to see and be seen!

If the poster is any indication of how memorable the weekend is going to be, we are in for a smashing time. The image is the brainchild of sensational artist Ashlea Green.

Eric Colin, the head honcho for the event, has taken some time from his hectic schedule to answer a few questions.

A Cyclical Incantation - A Case Study in Garage, Soul, Freakbeat and Psych. Where did that idea originate?

It came from my fertile brain of Psychedelic word groupings. I guess if I really delve into it, it sounds like an amalgam of Lovecraftian prose and something from the mystical or left hand path. I’d like to think the lineage of the name as a sort of Golden Dawn type secret society, which I’ve always had a healthy affinity for, and somehow always creeps into a big portion of my ideas. I suppose it might seem cerebral or even pretentious to some, but for me it sounds powerful. The case study subtitle is obviously geared towards the musical styles that will be featured at the event.

This is the 9th edition. How have things changed over the years and how do you explain the longevity?

That’s a good question and perhaps it’s a testament to the quality of the event. I try to make it an inclusive type of event, rather than exclusive, despite the privileged sounding title of the event this year! I think what it boils down to is having a good reputation and being able to provide a good time. Also Chicago has always seemed like a great meeting point for people all over the world, and precisely why so many of the MODchicago patrons are “out of towners”.

British Mod events seem to be geared more towards Northern Soul and R&B and the Americans really like their Garage and Psych. Have you notice that?

Hmm, the British definitely prefer their Northern, but I do feel that there are plenty of U.S. Northern Soul nights and weekenders and fans of that particular genre. Matter of fact there is a very popular night of Northern Soul in Chicago called The Windy City Soul Club that draws in very healthy crowds. I do feature plenty of Soul at MODchicago myself, but yes my own tastes tend to learn toward Garage, Freakbeat, Psych and harder R&B, rather than Northern. I’d say the people that favor Garage and Psych over all else are the good people of Spain.

What part does the scooter scene have in Chicago's Mod events?

My good friend Jason Berry of The Mayday Scooter Club was organizing full on scooter rides for the event, but that has fallen off a little. However, there are still plenty of scooter people that show up at the events with scooter in tow. We also try to make sure there is ample parking for them.

What kind of music makes the hair at the back of your neck stand up?

My taste in music is rather diverse and all sorts of styles have been known to stimulate the hairs on the back of neck. Jazz, for instance is a big passion of mine – hard bop, free jazz, afro jazz, cosmic jazz, etc. My personal idea of nirvana is hearing the monster rhythm section of Elvin Jones & Jimmy Garrison thunder along expertly behind John Coltrane.
As far as the type of music being played at the Weekender, I’d have to go with 60’s Garage Punk. Those are my humble origins within the “60’s scene” and never fail to bring me back to a special place in time as a teenager when I thought the world was mine. Plus, there is such a purity of intention in authentic Garage Punk that cannot be denied and is highly infectious, at least with me!

When you spin, how do you make you music selection?

As far as the weekender goes, I tend to choose 100% dance floor fillers. I try to break a lot of new records that haven’t been played on the circuit too much or are un-comped as of yet. Although, having said that, I do also throw in some tried and true crowd pleasers.

Anything else you want to tell me about the Big Event?

Two mind blowing days of International and American DJ’s with a plethora of rare movies on the big screen and psychedelic light shows to dazzle your eyes should be a good enough reason to throw your cares to the wind. We also have a record/clothes swap on Saturday afternoon that is free to all, and if that still isn’t enough – Chicago is a beautiful city with much character, plenty to do and a rich musical history! I hope to see you all there.

For more info about the Weekender, make sure to hop over to their website:

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mod essentials: the cycling shirt

Mod fashion has drawn its inspiration from a variety of sources. Take the Fred Perry pique polo for instance. Who else would of thought of using a tennis shirt to make a fashion statement? Without the 60s Mods, the Fred Perry would have never become the trendsetter it is today.

Mods have also been known to borrow items of clothing from other sports. The tight knitted ski jersey with its bright colors and racing stripes were now being worn outside of the ski chalet. The boating blazer popular in the early part of the 20th century, in yacht clubs, were later tailored and given a new life, far away from the salty air. The bowling shoe, with its smooth sole and unique style, was the perfect garment to help you show off your latest moves on the dance floor. If you are going to do The Monkey or The Jerk, might as well do it with style! The famous boxing brand Lonsdale has had many adepts since the Mod Revival. Paul Weller and The Jam have been largely responsible for bringing the more casual look to the forefront.

I bought this book when I was 16 and admired Paul Weller's sense of style in his Lonsdale shirt and bowling shoes
One of my favorite pieces of Mod gear has to be the cycling shirt. Usually seen in vibrant colors with its signature mock turtleneck collar, it's long been part of a Mod's casual arsenal. I bought my first cycling shirt when I was 16 in Toronto. Imported directly from the Carnaby Cavern in the UK, it had all the marks of timeless Mod garb.
On a trip to Paris in 1988 wearing my favorite Carnaby Cavern cycling top and trousers
Last year I bought this great long sleeve retro cycling top from the good people at Atom Retro. Made by Madcap England, it has all the Mod appeal I was looking for. With its royal blue, off white and red racing stripes, it's proper casual attire. Worn with a Harrington, a pair of Levis and Adidas trainers, it's the perfect combination for a leisurely stroll on the Lambretta. That is unless you actually take out your bicycle.

This season, Fred Perry has come out with a limited edition set of 4 different cycling shirts. With an obvious nod to its Mod past, it has successfully rejuvenated the look. Traditionally made from Merino wool, Fred Perry has opted for their time tested combed cotton pique fabric. Other interesting features on some of the models include a back pocket and ribbed funnel neck and cuffs.

The day it became available online, I immediately placed an order for the attractive multi-stripe shirt. They were already out of my size! Come on Fred Perry! You missed the boat on that one! Unlike other limited edition collections, like the Paul Weller or The Specials collaborations, you couldn't pre-order this one.

So I went with my second choice (I probably would have bought that one too anyway). The sky blue, black and white zip-up funnel neck shirt has that timeless, classic, clean look we all expect from Fred Perry.

To the people who don't know me personally, you might be surprised to learn that I ride my bicycle to work every day. Yes, even during the snow covered cold Canadian winters! My bike is my main form of transportation. One thing is certain; this Fred Perry will not be worn during my commute. This one is for special occasions only...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mid-century MODern love

Rare are the things in my loft that were manufactured in the 21st century. I can literally count them on two hands: a plasma TV, a washer / dryer combo, a mattress, a cordless telephone and a microwave. Almost everything else pre dates 1975. Is this the antithesis of what Modernism is supposed to be? You could make a case for that.

Mid-century modern furniture exhibit at the Ford Museum in Detroit
Exploded view of the iconic Eames lounge chair

I think that one thing supersedes the notion that Mod equals Modern. That is the premise that Mods are about being hip and cool. Of course being cool is very subjective. I believe I should at least get an A for the effort.

When I moved into my loft, almost 4 years ago, I bought my first ever new piece of furniture. I thought that a classic leather L-shape couch would mix well with my vintage pieces in my rather large living room. Not exactly mid-century modern, I went for comfort over style. I chose the leather for the simple fact that fabric is a very powerful pet hair magnet. I was heartbroken when I gave away my funky 70s brown velvet love seat. The move was the perfect excuse to find something new. And with a cat and a dog in the home, it had to go.

The velvet love seat in my former apartment

Single at the time, I went with my sister in one of those generic, sterile, large surface furniture stores. I wanted a second opinion and my sister is not known for shying away from hers. I hate those places. I think I broke into hives as soon as I walked through the door. I considered going with Ikea but like a lot of modern inspired pieces, they are often not comfortable. So I settled for a safe but cozy dark brown leather 7-seater. On sale at $1500, I expected it to be part of my decor for at least the next 15 years.

A year only after my butt had first rested on its cushions, the leather started to split. And no, it had nothing to do with the size of said ass! A couple of years after the purchase, small tears would appear every month or so. My only remedy was putting a small piece of tape on the tear. I don't allow the dog on the couch and it's been a while since my last pillow fight. The only sensible explanation is that it's cheap and of poor quality. I take great pride in my home and to have a taped-up couch was unacceptable. I guess there's a thing to be said about the craftsmanship being much better in the past decades.

Bowling on his favorite spot on the couch, guarding the safe

So I started looking for a nice vintage, mid-century modern designer couch that had a nice patina to the leather. The only problem is that they're not easy to come by and they're bloody expensive. I had put the word out and once again, my mate Stéphane came through and sent me a link to a 70s L-shape couch he saw on an on-line classified ads site. It looked different and unique. At $100, how could I go wrong?

The very 70s black and rust couch with reversible cushions. Notice the attached end tables with ceramic inlays.

I contacted the nice lady that was selling it for her aging parents and set up an appointment. My friend Eve had warned me about buying used furniture, fearful that the dreaded bed bug might have elected to take up residence. So I was prepared to inspect every inch of it, unzipping cushions if necessary.

The couch looked great and seemed hardly used. It would make for a perfect transition sofa. As my girlfriend and I were testing the merchandise and considering making the purchase, we noticed a pristine 50s lime green sofa with matching chair across from us. I asked if they were also for sale and I was told that $100 takes both. We were now stuck with a dilemma. Which one would we leave with?

And the winner is...

What tipped the scale for us was the fact that it was a hide-a-bed with a storage compartment under the cushions. Yes! More space for my ever-expending record collection!

Until we find the mid-century modern couch of our dreams, I think I can deal with the pet hair and a $100 hole in my pocket. And my 4-year-old contemporary couch ended up in my sister's garage. I had no doubt she would like it.